Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 2
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CHAPTER VI. - Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 2 
The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, 2 vols. (London: L. Taylor, 1808). Vol. 2.
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Continuation from July 1798 to July 1794—Author travels round the kingdom again—Motion to abolish the foreign Slave-trade renewed in the Commons—and carried—but lost in the Lords—further proceedings there—Author, on account of his declining health, obliged to retire from the cause.
The committee for the abolition could not view the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament on this subject during the year 1793, without being alarmed for the fate of their question. The only two sources of hope, which they could discover, were in the disposition then manifested by the peers as to the conduct of the Earl of Abingdon, and in their determination to proceed in the hearing of evidence. The latter circumstance indeed was the more favourable, as the resolution, upon which the witnesses were to be examined, had not been renewed by the Commons. These considerations, however, afforded no solid ground for the mind to rest upon. They only broke in upon it, like faint gleams of sunshine, for a moment, and then were gone. In this situation the committee could only console themselves by the reflection, that they had done their duty. In looking, however, to their future services, one thing, and only one, seemed practicable; and this was necessary; namely, to complete the new body of evidence, which they had endeavoured to form in the preceding year. The determination to do this rendered another journey on my part indispensable; and I undertook it, broken down as my constitution then was, beginning it in September 1793, and completing it in February 1794.
Mr. Wilberforce, in this interval, had digested his plan of operations; and accordingly, early in the session of 1794, he asked leave to renew his former bill, to abolish that part of the trade, by means of which British merchants supplied foreigners with slaves. This request was opposed by Sir William Yonge; but it was granted, on a division of the House, by a majority of sixty-three to forty votes.
When the bill was brought in, it was opposed by the same member; upon which the House divided; and there appeared for Sir William Yonge’s amendment thirty-eight votes, but against it fifty-six.
On a motion for the recommitment of the bill, Lord Sheffield divided the House, against whose motion there was a majority of forty-two. And, on the third reading of it, it was opposed again; but it was at length carried.
The speakers against the bill were; Sir William Yonge, Lord Sheffield, Colonel Tarleton, Alderman Newnham, and Mr. Payne, Este, Lechmere, Cawthorne, Jenkinson, and Dent. Those who spoke in favour of it were; Mr. Pitt, Fox, William Smith, Whitbread, Francis, Burdon, Vaughan, Barham, and Serjeants Watson and Adair.
While the foreign Slave-bill was thus passing its stages in the Commons, Dr. Horsley, bishop of Rochester, who saw no end to the examinations, while the witnesses were to be examined at the bar of the House of Lords, moved, that they should be taken in future before a committee abovestairs. Dr. Porteus, bishop of London, and the Lords Guildford, Stanhope, and Grenville, supported this motion. But the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, aided by the Duke of Clarence, and by the Lords Mansfield, Hay, Abingdon, and others, negatived it by a majority of twenty-eight.
At length the bill itself was ushered into the House of Lords. On reading it a second time, it was opposed by the Duke of Clarence, Lord Abingdon, and others. Lord Grenville and the Bishop of Rochester declined supporting it. They alleged, as a reason, that they conceived the introduction of it to have been improper pending the inquiry on the general subject of the Slave-trade. This declaration brought up the Lords Stanhope and Lauderdale, who charged them with inconsistency as professed friends of the cause. At length the bill was lost. During these discussions the examination of the witnesses was resumed by the Lords; but only two of them were heard in this session* .
After this decision the question was in a desperate state; for if the Commons would not renew their own resolution, and the Lords would not abolish the foreign part of the Slave-trade, What hope was there, of success? It was obvious too, that in the former House, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas voted against each other. In the latter, the Lord Chancellor Thurlow opposed every motion in favour of the cause. The committee therefore were reduced to this;—either they must exert themselves without hope, or they must wait till some change should take place in their favour. As far as I myself was concerned, all exertion was then over. The nervous system was almost shattered to pieces. Both my memory and my hearing failed me. Sudden dizzinesses seized my head. A confused singing in the ears followed me, wherever I went. On going to bed the very stairs seemed to dance up and down under me, so that, misplacing my foot, I sometimes fell. Talking too, if it continued but half an hour, exhausted me, so that profuse perspirations followed; and the same effect was produced even by an active exertion of the mind for the like time. These disorders had been brought on by degrees in consequence of the severe labours necessarily attached to the promotion of the cause. For seven years I had a correspondence to maintain with four hundred persons with my own hand. I had some book or other annually to write in behalf of the cause. In this time I had travelled more than thirty-five thousand miles in search of evidence, and a great part of these journeys in the night. All this time my mind had been on the stretch. It had been bent too to this one subject; for I had not even leisure to attend to my own concerns. The various instances of barbarity, which had come successively to my knowledge within this period, had vexed, harassed, and afflicted it. The wound, which these had produced, was rendered still deeper by those cruel disappointments before related, which arose from the reiterated refusal of persons to give their testimony, after I had travelled hundreds of miles in quest of them. But the severest stroke was that inflicted by the persecution, begun and pursued by persons interested in the continuance of the trade, of such witnesses as had been examined against them; and whom, on account of their dependent situation in life, it was most easy to oppress. As I had been the means of bringing these forward on these occasions, they naturally came to me, when thus persecuted, as the author of their miseries and their ruin. From their supplications and wants it would have been ungenerous and ungrateful to have fled* . These different circumstances, by acting together, had at length brought me into the situation just mentioned; and I was therefore obliged, though very reluctantly, to be borne out of the field, where I had placed the great honour and glory of my life.
[* ]After this the examinations wholly dropped in the House of Lords.
[* ]The late Mr. Whitbread, to whom one day in deep affliction on this account I related accidentally a circumstance of this kind, generously undertook, in order to make my mind easy upon the subject, to make good all injuries, which should in future arise to individuals from such persecution; and he repaired these, at different times, at a considerable expense. I feel it a duty to divulge this circumstance, out of respect to the memory of one of the best of men, and of one, whom, if the history of his life were written, it would appear to have been an extraordinary honour to the country to have produced.